The long dark days of winter are a dangerous time; it gives one far too much time for thinking and pondering on the meaning of life, etc. Well this winterI got to thinking. Even if all nature conservation policy was fully implemented in Ireland in the short-term, there are still additional things that I would like to see happen. So here is a list of 10 ‘big ticket’ additional initiatives I would like to see happen in nature conservation in Ireland before I die. It could be considered my ‘Nature Conservation Bucket List’!
- A State Agency for nature conservation in Ireland
It is somewhat of an anomaly that Ireland doesn’t have a state agency with responsibility for nature conservation. Ireland has the Environmental Protection Agency for environmental protection, Inland Fisheries Ireland for fisheries management, Coillte for forest management, Waterways Ireland for waterways management, and so forth, so why not an agency for nature conservation? (NPWS is part of a Government Department).
- Designate sites of national, regional and local importance.
In contrast with most other European countries, Ireland lacks a network of legally protected sites of national, regional and local importance (the current network of SACs and SPAs are protecting sites of European importance). Such a network was in place until 1990 with the designation of the Areas of Scientific Interest, but has become redundant as a legal challenge found the designation process to be unconstitutional. The removal of this pillar of nature conservation policy should be rectified.
- Provide additional financial incentives to promote positive land management for conservation
Nature Reserves and positive land management for conservation are a vital element in any nature conservation policy. Special financial and taxation incentives should be available for landowners and farmers who are willing to designate their land as Important Nature Areas under a medium to long term agreement, and carry out specific, target-driven management actions to achieve nature conservation objectives.
- Articulate a vision for Ireland’s biodiversity in 2050
A vision for what the Irish countryside and biodiversity should look like in 2050 needs to be articulated, and a high-level blueprint presented for the structures and actions that are needed to achieve this vision. This would help conservation to have something positive to strive for, and introduce some unity of purpose within the conservation movement.
- Appoint a Conservation Champion
All causes need champions, and there are few if any conservation champions operating at a sufficiently high level in Ireland to contribute to political, economic and social dialogue. As a public service, an Office for Nature Conservation should be established, and a Commissioner for Nature Conservation appointed, whose job it is to influence high level decision-making for the benefit of nature conservation.
- Invest in survey, monitoring and research
Biodiversity is a science-based policy. Scientific survey and monitoring is needed to document Ireland’s biodiversity resource, to understand how it functions and to track how it is changing. Investment in survey and research should be seen as an investment in human capital through employment of high-calibre professionals who can make a valuable contribution to Irish economy and society by improving the quality of decision-making.
- Properly resource the Wildlife Grant Scheme operated by the Heritage Council
The Wildlife Grant Scheme operated by the Heritage Council has delivered many local and community based initiatives, filling a very important niche in conservation management. It is targeted, well administered and promotes grass-roots, community-led initiatives in an extremely cost effective manner. The future of the scheme needs to be secured and properly resourced so that it can expand and facilitate funding of additional projects on a multi-annual basis.
- Introduce a high level promotional campaign to promote Ireland’s biodiversity
The Wild Atlantic Way has been a phenomenal success in promoting tourism along the west coast of Ireland. A similar large-scale promotional drive is needed to promote Ireland’s biodiversity, its value and the benefits it brings to society. This would be a high-level, properly funded campaign with the objective of garnering public and political support for nature conservation.
- Support conservation NGOs
A dynamic conservation NGO sector is good for civic society and can contribute in a meaningful and positive manner to development of public policy. Greater engagement by the environmental NGOs in public policy needs to be facilitated and encouraged, and both human and financial resources provided to assist capacity building within the sector.
- Oh, and sort out the mess with the conservation of protected Raised Bogs in Ireland.
Raised Bogs are of inordinate conservation value in Ireland, and less than 1% of this once extant resource remains active. The legal protection for these last remaining active raised bogs is in place; what is needed is the political will to resolve outstanding issues and deliver proper protection for the benefit of future generations.